Code Monkey

I write words that make computers do things.

Inspired by XKCD's Up-Goer Five, there's a meme going around where people try to describe their jobs (or other technical subjects) using only the thousand most common words in English. The Up-Goer Five Text Editor is quite useful for this. So here's my attempt.
I write words to make computers do what I want them to do. This is hard because computers are very good at following directions but very bad at thinking for themselves. So sometimes I write something that I think will make the computer do what I want, but it turns out that the computer thinks it means something different. Then I have to figure out why.

But that's only part of my job. I spend a lot of time planning out what kinds of things we want the computers to do, since they have to work with a lot of other computers, which are all doing their own things. Sometimes the stuff we know about what those other computers are doing turns out to be wrong. Sometimes there are things that we know our computers are doing wrong, but we can't make time to make the computers do it right. And of course I spend a lot of time talking with people about what they want our computers to do - making what they want fit in with what we can make the computers actually do can be very hard.

Really, I got lucky that "computer" was on the list. That wouldn't have been the case twenty years ago, and I'm not even sure about ten.

Still Alive

I've posted exactly once since my son was born, and that was a brief bit about NaNoWriMo (which I've since utterly failed). I guess I've been too busy living life to spend much time talking about it.

Alpha is coming up on 10 months old. He's cruising around (standing upright with support and moving along and between supporting objects), and verbalizing quite a bit! He's pretty much got "mama" down now (particularly for use whenever he's unhappy about something), uses "dada" with some frequency too, and frequently asks for "mih" (milk) after he wakes up.

And he laughs so much, now! He likes being flipped upside down, lifted into the air, and being used as a weight for lifting ("baby curls" are his favorite - babies are nature's graduated-weight program!). He'll also start laughing if I just go "ha ha ha ha ha!" at him. He climbs around a bunch too, and occasionally gives us "kisses" (pressing his open mouth against our cheek). He's such a sweet boy, and I had no idea it'd be so much fun to be a parent this early in his life.

He also got to participate in one of the first same-sex marriages in the state, on Sunday - he was the ring bearer (or "ring bear", as I called him, dressed in his little bear-eared hoodie) for our friends Richard and Liam as they were finally able to marry after being together for nearly two decades. I'm incredibly happy for them, and proud to have been at their side for such a momentous occasion in both their own lives and in state history.

Lots of other minor things abound. Thanksgiving was stressful but fun. Sora and I finished Secret of Mana and I started up Assassin's Creed III, which is entertaining, but so far I like the ACII games better. We haven't had a lot of time for board gaming lately, but Cards Against Humanity has been a recent favorite. (I'm much better at it than I am at Apples to Apples; I guess it suits my sense of humor better. Which is to say I'm a horrible person.)

Oh!  Books!  I started reading the Wheel of Time, since the final book will be out next month. I'm about halfway through The Eye of the World; so far it's an excellent execution of a pretty standard-looking formula. (No spoilers, please - though I've already been spoiled for years on one of the bigger plot points in the entire series, sigh.) nightsinger is reading along with me; it's a lot of fun discussing things as they happen. She's been very good about not spoiling me so far too, despite this being at least her third read-through of the whole series...

We're also (re-)reading the Vorkosigan Saga to our son as bedtime stories. Much of it isn't really appropriate for children, but for now his language acquisition is still mostly focused on individual syllables and only the most common words. Earlier we read him The Hobbit, after finishing the Enchanted Forest Chronicles, which we started as a way to familiarize him with my voice while he was still in the womb. It's a lot of fun, especially since I'm putting some work into making characters' voices sound different without actually changing my voice much. (For example, I'm not actually using falsetto for any of the female characters or children, because I think it sounds bizarre, but I do soften my speech a bit and pitch it up just a little.)

Beyond that, I haven't been keeping track of books and reviewing them like I had in the past, but here's a partial list of my recent reads:
  • The Mongoliad, Book One by Neal Stephenson, Mark Teppo, et al.  Fun historical fiction; some might find it dry, but the characters are really compelling so far.
  • The Honor Harrington series, by David Weber.  Fantastic military science fiction.  A few unfortunate political straw men, as Weber makes his viewpoints pretty obvious, but he's gotten a lot more subtle in later books, and I'm pretty pleased with the overall diversity of his cast of characters.
  • Redshirts by John Scalzi.  I was worried at the beginning about where he was going with this Star Trek pastiche, but it's a great story and the payoff is a lot of fun.
  • Captain Vorpatril's Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold.  Speaking of the Vorkosiverse, my friend gifted us an ARC of this one (Thanks, Sheree!), and I find it an excellent addition to the series.  Comedy, action, romance, intrigue, and poor befuddled Ivan mixed up in the middle of it all - it's yet another great example of Bujold's storycrafting ability.
  • The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox by Barry Hughart.  I was a little nervous to read a pastiche of Imperial Chinese culture by a Westerner (cultural appropriation being something I've become more aware of in recent years), but the classic stereotypes are lovingly used and have a lot of depth backing them up, and the stories themselves are fantastical tales of adventure, practically swashbuckling in their energy and yet epic in their scope.  

Anyway, there's an infodump for you.  What's up with all of you?  (I've still been reading LJ even if I'm not posting much, but there's not as much going on here these days...)
NaNoWriMo Winner 2010

Hey, I remember this thing!

I've been in pretty heavy lurker-mode lately, but November does strange things.

That's right - it's National Novel Writing Month! I'm working on a higher difficulty level than usual this year, what with having an 8 (soon to be 9!) month old son at home. So nightsinger and I have decided to aim for a "starting goal" of 30,000 words, and shoot for 50,000 if we manage to pass that. We'll see how it goes.

Current word count, thanks to my morning commute: 445.
Yomiko - Reading

Books 39-51

39. Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach
40. I Am Not a Serial Killer by Dan Wells
41-42. The Unwritten, vols. 1-2 by Mike Carey and Peter Gross
43. Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson
44. Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey
45. Hexaflexagons and Other Mathematical Diversions by Martin Gardner
46. Time Lord: Sir Sandford Fleming and the Creation of Standard Time by Clark Blaise
47. Castle Waiting by Linda Medley
48. The Magicians by Lev Grossman
49-51. Dealing with Dragons, Searching for Dragons, and Calling on Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede

Made it to 50 books! Hooray. Collapse )
Yomiko - Reading

Books 30-33: More Hugo Reading

30. Feed by Mira Grant
31. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin
32-33. Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis

These were the other novels (besides Cryoburn that I read for the Hugo ballot this year. I also started Dervish House by Ian McDonald, but set it down because it didn't engage me very well and I wanted to get on with the rest of the category, but when I have more patience for a slow start I'll go back to it. (Apparently the book really picks up about a third of the way through it; I abandoned it after about a sixth. We'll see.)

My final ballot had Feed at the top, followed by Kingdoms, then Blackout/All Clear, Cryoburn, and Dervish House. Feed was a fantastic, exciting story with a well-developed world, and it made me care about the characters quite a bit. It wasn't the deepest book, but it was more fun than any of the others. Kingdoms was highly imaginative fantasy where the gods were nearly as interesting characters as the mortals, and the slow reveal of one of the major plot points of the book was very nicely done. Blackout/All Clear was in dire need of editing for length, and I really didn't like the direction that it took the series' conception of the time continuum, but it was an entertaining story regardless; I still prefer her other novels in that universe, though. Cryoburn, as I mentioned, was decent enough but really felt like it wasn't living up to the awesomeness of the rest of the series.

I'm now working on a reread of A Song of Ice and Fire; I'm very close to beginning A Dance with Dragons, but I'll write those up as a separate entry.
Roll for Initiative

Books 14-29, etc


14. Perdido Street Station by China Mieville
15-29. The Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold (15 novels; various novellas)

Perdido Street Station was pretty entertaining. Mieville's excellent at creating stories deeply soaked in a sense of place without ever making the exposition and description so thick that the story itself drags to a halt. The plot was excellent, the variety of alien people fascinating, and the villains amazingly creepy.

The Vorkosigan Saga, however, is collectively one of the best works of science fiction I've ever read. It's not always highbrow, but it's ridiculously readable, and I think I've found a new inspiration for modeling my own writing on. Punchy plots, entertaining characters that I strongly give a damn about, and plenty of witty banter to go around. Plus, Bujold pulls off the impressive feat of a reasonably realistic depiction of a society evolving, bit by bit, over the course of thirty years. And of course the characters develop over that time as well, and the events in their lives continue to have repercussions that extend past the last page of any given novel. Cryoburn, the most recent entry in the series and one of the nominees for this year's Hugo for Best Novel, was actually one of my least favorite novels of the series - but that merely renders it "rather good" rather than "really great".

In other Hugo nominee news, I gave The Dervish House by Ian McDonald a try, and didn't really get pulled into it, so now I'm on to Feed by Mira Grant. Enjoying that one so far!


It's been a crazy month for us. June included a weekend trip down to Portland to visit a friend and continue marathoning Star Trek: TNG; The Game the following weekend, which was a road-rally puzzle hunt that took us from Tacoma to Maple Valley to Redmond to Seattle over the course of around 30 hours and 20-some puzzles; and the first part of a week spent in Ottawa and environs visiting Sora's best friend Pam and Pam's boyfriend Nick. Thankfully, we've got about a month off before we head down to Worldcon...

The Game

This deserves a bit more elaboration, but I can't really do it justice right now. Suffice it to say - several awesome puzzles and only a couple annoying ones; a cast/staff that included some entertaining characters acting out a relatively twisty plot; and nearly 36 hours straight spent awake in a van with five other people, and amazingly still all liking each other at the end. Also, it was themed around the job fair and recruitment process for the World Henchmen Organization, as inspired by Dr. Horrible, which meant lots of villainy to go around! Bwahahahaha.


We're at the start of a nearly year-long wedding season - congratulations, Dawn and Jeremy! Their wedding was simple and beautiful, with as gorgeous a Seattle summer day as an outdoor wedding can possibly hope for.


After over a decade since my last time DMing, I'm running a D&D 3.5 game for a few friends; we finished the first module recently. (Yes, I'm still using modules. I said I was out of practice.) The module had a couple poorly written encounters, but the players stepped up with some creative solutions - I think the highlight would have to be the halfling scout jumping onto a troglodyte's back and tying him down with several successful Use Rope checks. Well done, players!
Yomiko - Reading

Books 1-13

Haven't been getting a lot of reading done this year, since I've been spending a fair bit of my bus time coding. I think it's short-review time.

1-6. Codex Alera by Jim Butcher
7. Everything Is Going to Kill Everybody by Robert Brockway
8. Shogun by James Clavell
9. Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn by Penny Simkin et al.
10-13. Percy Jackson and the Olympians (books 2-5) by Rick Riordan

Codex Alera: Awesome, epic, Roman-flavored fantasy. Great characters, and a variety of entertaining villains.

EIGtKE: Basically a book-length article about all the possible things that could end humanity.

Shogun: An impressive portrait of Japanese samurai culture, via a heavily fictionalized account of the beginning of the Edo period. 1200 pages long, and well worth it.

PC&N: A comprehensive guide to the baby-making process, with a very slight anti-medical bent - their reasons for the bias are reasonable, but the bias is still distracting at times.

Percy Jackson: The series improved steadily as it went along; I'm glad it stopped being so much of a Harry Potter clone.

Next up, Perdido Street Station.

Tonight, on Anime Club:

Our host: "Here, have episode one of Star Driver!"

Star Driver: *flashy lights, explosions, unexplained backstory, and a magical boy driving a robot with a fucking plumed tricorn*

Us: "W. T. ....F."

This show is the crackiest crack that I've ever cracked.

And I want more.

Damn you.
Yomiko - Reading

Books 74-76 (goal met!)

74. A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller
75. Variable Star by Robert Heinlein and Spider Robinson
76. Turing: A Novel of Computation by Christos Papadimitriou

75 was my goal. Hooray!

A Canticle for Leibowitz was technically a reread, as I first read it in my science-fiction literature class in college. But it was definitely worth coming back to, six years later. The ending was a little weird, but after reading some analytical essays afterwards I've at least made a little more sense of it, trying to fit it into Catholic theology...

Variable Star is now among my favorite Heinlein books, but I think that has a lot to do with Robinson's modernization of Heinlein's storytelling. The plot is all Heinlein, even if it ends up just a little more deus-ex-machinistic than I'm used to from him - but Robinson's wordcraft is impressive. The world is rich with well-developed characters and well-considered concepts, and several plot points turn on characters outthinking each other without resorting to idiot-plot weaknesses. I'm definitely going to have to pick up some more of Spider Robinson's work. (I'm sure shardavarius can recommend a place to start...

Turing was kind of odd. It's a history of the theory of computation wrapped up in a near-future story about an AI claiming to be Alan Turing and a vague sort of love-quadrangle. It was fun to read, but I was left vaguely unsatisfied even if the plot itself did resolve.

Year-retrospective post coming soon. Or perhaps not. We'll see.